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Harvard study: New York Giants have best chance of winning NFC East

Maybe it's all just a bunch of meaningless statistical analysis. When smart people give you good news, though, maybe it means something.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants will win the NFC East. How do we know that? Well, because some very smart people are telling us that is what will happen, that's how we know. A Harvard study has predicted that the Giants have the best chance of winning the division.

Harvard's Kurt Bullard gives the Giants a 42 percent chance of making the playoffs. He gives the Philadelphia Eagles a 35 percent chance, the defending champion Dallas Cowboys a 23 percent chance and the Washington Redskins an 18 percent chance.

How did Bullard figure all of this out. Well, he came up with a prediction model which is explained on the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective (HSAC) web site. Here is part of the methodology:

The biggest challenge obviously is to come up with a sound way to estimate team strength, an endeavor that's demanding considering the amount of personnel turnover each offseason and the lack of advanced statistics to evaluate player interactions. The method that I came up with uses Pro Football Reference's Approximate Value statistic, the site's best measure of trying to tease out individual talent. Then, using ESPN's NFL depth charts, I aggregated each team's per game approximate value of what I considered to be the "core" makeup of an NFL team: QB, RB, 2 WR, TE, Top 2 OL, the Top-4 "Front Seven" defensive players, and the Top-2 players from the secondary.

There were some exceptions to simply using last year's AV. If a team had an absent starter that was injured or suspended for the majority of last year (e.g. Adrian Peterson), I used the player's 2013 AV value. And, if ESPN listed a rookie as a starter, I took the AV of the backup with the reasoning that, if the rookie ends up starting, he should perform at least as good as the person that is backing him up. So, I used the per-game AV of Josh McCown as a substitute for Jameis Winston in my model since predicting rookie performance is another battle of its own. This will inflate the odds for teams who plan to stick with a struggling rookie through thick and thin, and hurt teams who find a phenom rookie.

Bullard also factored in things like ELO Ratings and some other factors that it probably takes someone with a Harvard-caliber brain to figure out.

Maybe Bullard's work is all meaningless hocus pocus. Maybe he will end up being right. After two straight losing seasons and three years without making the playoffs, though, Giants fans are likely glad for whatever hints of better days ahead that they can get.

-- 'Kudos to CBS Sports for the find